Modding Dad's Electra X145 with Jazzmaster Pickups

I've never modded a guitar to the degree I've changed this one. I saw good bones in the original package, but needed something that had more of surfy-look for my band, The Aquatudes. Later, I decided I needed something to sound like a Jazzmaster - without having to store yet another guitar in my crowded basement.
electra 2

As seen on the other page on the evolution of this guitar, here it is after I installed a custom tortoiseshell pickguard. I also added white pickup covers, a new chrome Gotoh trem, and gold knobs. I thought this gave the look I wanted for my new surf-rock band, the Aquatudes. It retained the Strat-style electronics.

This was my main guitar for the first year and a half of Aquatudes gigs. When I eventually found my MIJ Fender Jaguar, this guitar fell by the wayside, compounded by the development of a pesky short in the cable jack.

I put a lot of thought and planning into this mod, largely because I was worried that I would inadvertently trash a perfectly good guitar if I didn't! I did not find much help on the Web, since this seems to be a very unusual mod for a Strat-style guitar.

First, I acquired all the parts I thought I would need:

  • The two JM pickups (Genuine Fenders) with covers
  • 1 meg CTS volume and tone pots
  • Ceramic capacitor for the tone control
  • New 1/4" jack
  • Some vintage-style cloth-covered wire
  • Right-angle 3-way toggle switch
  • Brown tortoiseshell pickguard blank.

Next, I disassembled the guitar and located the best spots for the pickups. I used the plastic covers for this, since they have the little "ears" through which the mounting screws go. This was the shape I needed to rout into the guitar body. I reinstalled the high and low E strings to help make sure the pickups were properly centered. I outlined the final locations with a fine-point Sharpie. Photo below shows the body on my portable work bench.

body before
masking
The photo above shows a closeup view of the rout outlines. As you can see, I changed my mind on the location of the bridge pickup once. Next, I taped some cardstock to the body to protect the finish from the router. I used that blue painter's tape. Now came the moment of truth - you simply can't UN-ROUT your guitar body!
depth setting

I didn't want to rout to the whole depth of the pickup covers in one shot, so I set the router depth at about half the height of the cover. Then, with goggles on, I started the routing process, going entirely by sight, slowly, just a little at a time. This guitar body is maple, which is a hard and heavy wood, so the routing was slow going anyway. After finishing the first round, I trial-fitted the covers to the newly routed holes and made some minor adjustments - see the next photo.

Note also that this is a messy job - wood chips fly everywhere! I worked outdoors.

partial rout

Actually, since I did not intend the pickups to ever go below the level of the pickguard, I was a lot closer to the finished depth here than I had expected. One other thing that I was watching out for was to leave enough wood where the four mounting screws per pickup would need to go.

I reset the depth of my router blade and made the second round of routing. At this point, the routs already made served as guides and helped keep the router blade on the correct path. I trial-fitted the covers again, made any necessary tweaks, and was finished with this step.

full rout

I removed the masking and popped on the trem bridge and neck to see how things looked. Not bad! There were a few areas that were less than perfect, but these would ultimately be hidden by the pickguard, so no big deal.

Next up was the slot for the toggle switch. I wanted it in a position similar to a real Jazzmaster, so I plotted the perfect spot out in relation to my existing pickguard and transferred the outline to the body, once again using a Sharpie. I masked off this portion of the body and prepared to rout again, using the same half-depth-at-a-time method from before. I used the switch itself to check for correct depth and shape of the hole.

switch rout 1
switch rout 2

Here's the finished switch slot. Note that I had to provide a path for the wires to connect everything.

This was all very encouraging, but the toughest part was yet to come - shaping the pickguard. I had never done this before, and most of the online guides I found employed equipment that I do not have.

The way I worked this out had two main points:

  • I cut the pickup mounting holes in the blank BEFORE I cut the blank to the final outer shape.
  • The most important locating guide was the pattern of mounting holes for the pickguard.

First, I used the original pickguard and trace its outline onto a piece of masonite. (This would be my inter-template to shape the tortoiseshell pickguard blank.) Then, I located all the mounting holes to the masonite and drilled the mounting holes. Then, I mounted the original pickguard directly to the masonite, using the mounting screws.

Then, with a jigsaw, I cut the masonite to the pickguard shape. The result is shown below. i made fine adjustments with my Dremel, using the round, sandpaper-holding bit. Note that I traced the locations of the volume/tone pots and the output jack. I later decided to move the volume and tone knobs slightly.

photo
photo

Cutting the openings for the pickups - this required a little thought on my part. I decided to use a material from my early graphic-design days, clear acetate. I did not photograph this part, but I'll try to explain as clearly as possible. Remember that I cut the pickup openings BEFORE I cut the blank into the final pickguard shape.

  1. I taped a large piece of clear acetate over the original pickguard and once again plotted the mounting holes with a Sharpie.
  2. Then, I placed the Jazzmaster pickup covers in their routs on the guitar body.
  3. I laid the acetate over the guitar body and taped it in place, carefully lining up the pickguard mounting holes.
  4. Using a ruler for the straight parts, I carefully traced the shapes of the pickup covers onto the acetate with a fine-point Sharpie. I removed the acetate from the guitar body.
  5. Then, using an X-acto razor knife, I carefully cut out the pickup openings in the acetate.
  6. Next, I taped the acetate to the newly cut out tortoiseshell pickguard blank, yet again using the mounting holes as the positioning guide.
  7. As precisely as possible, I traced the shapes of the pickup openings onto the protective covering on the pickguard blank.
  8. I drilled a hole in the middle of each pickup-opening location that would allow me to insert the router bit and start the rout from there.
  9. With great care and going very slowly, I routed the pickup openings.
  10. I laid the blank material over the guitar body to check the accuracy of the openings and made tweaks with the Dremel tool.
  11. Lastly, I drilled the mounting holes into the pickguard blank.

Next was the moment of truth - cutting out the pickguard blank to shape. I attached the masonite piece to the pickguard blank using the mounting holes again and screwing the masonite to the pickguard blank. Then I cut out the pickguard, once again using the jigsaw. As with the masonite and the pickup openings, I made final adjustments with my Dremel tool. The photo below shows the pickguard in place on the guitar, before I drilled the holes for the controls. The protective film is still on.

photo
The photo below shows the original pickguard on the left, the masonite piece in the center, and the finished pickguard on the right.

pickguard

With all the pieces ready to go, the last step was final assembly of the guitar. It involved the following:

  1. Mounting the electronics
  2. Wiring the electronics
  3. Reassembling the guitar

One thing that I purposely left out of my build was the separate rhythm circuit that a real Jazzmaster has. I have a Fender Jaguar, which has a similar setup and I find that I never use the rhythm circuit there, so I figured I would keep it simple here. I followed a simple two-pickup, three-way switch, volume, tone circuit I found online. Mounting the electronics and the pickguard was a little tricky, since the pickups mount to the body and the controls and jack mount to the pickguard. That took a little doing.

electra

Here's the finished product. It still plays as great as ever and I'm crazy about the sound! Not identical to the real JM sound, since the floating trem adds a distinct character that cannot be duplicated using a Strat-style trem. Still, the sound is way more meaty with that groovy JM midrange bite.

Would I do it again? I think I would, since I love a project like this where I end up with a "new" toy. It challenged my thinking and my woodworking/plastic-working skills and boosted my confidence in these areas. I might tackle a more involved project in the future - maybe one of the following:

  • Adding a 12-string neck and bridge to my old Electra X140 (hardtail), which would make it similar to a 12-string Strat.
  • Adding a vibrato to my Univox Hi-Flier - either a Bigsby (easier, but requires drilling holes in the top) or a Jazzmaster/Jaguar floating trem (that would require routing).

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